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Man suing MDOC says he dealt with a "culture of racism"

Posted at 7:50 PM, Jul 10, 2019

LANSING, Mich. — A former corrections officer says he was treated horrible for years while working at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson.

In his complaint, he said he had to deal with a culture of racism where he was targeted for his ethnicity, religion and weight.

"Harassed every day about my religion, where I'm from. Called, ya know... terrorist," Hizam Yehia said.

Yehia is an Arab-American and Muslim, who started working for the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) around 2015.

Since then he says he was harassed non-stop by his fellow officers and supervisors.

"I was tricked into eating like, pork," Yehia said. "I was also called like a bomb-making guy."

Yehia sued the department along with a captain.

"You have a captain who's a high ranking official who's making some of the most racist and derogatory actions and comments of all," Yehia's lawyer said.

In the federal lawsuit, Yehia claims the department and captain violated Michigan's Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act and his constitutional rights under the 14th amendment, which protects against discrimination based on race and religion.

He says the abuse started to affect his health.

"I had panic attacks, severe anxiety. It was just horrible. The idea of going to work, my stomach would just hurt. Just knowing that I'm going through this kind of stuff," Yehia said.

Yehia said he filed reports with MDOC's discriminatory harassment department, but his complaints were not thoroughly investigated.

"MDOC has refused to take responsibility and they refuse to basically change anything or even admit that this type of heinous racism in 2019 is a problem or that it's wrong. I mean they're continuing to deny they have any responsibility or they should do anything differently," Yehia's lawyer said.

The 27-year-old says he was forced to resign in January of this year and move to Virginia. He wants MDOC to become a diverse and safe workplace.

"So people can go to work smiling, being happy to work there. instead of going to work being upset," Yehia said.

The suit is seeking an undisclosed amount of money.

An MDOC spokesperson says they can't comment on pending litigation.

Yehia says the next step is working toward bringing this case to trial and gathering testimony.

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